The EU established bilateral relations with the GCC countries through the 1988 Cooperation Agreement, intended to:
- strengthen stability in a region of strategic importance;
- facilitate political and economic relations;
- broaden economic and technical cooperation;
- broaden cooperation on energy, industry, trade and services, agriculture, fisheries, investment, science, technology and environment.
The Agreement provides for annual joint councils/ministerial meetings (between the EU and the GCC foreign ministers), and for joint cooperation committees at senior official level.
The Agreement allowed for the development of closer cooperation on issues such as energy, transport, research and innovation, and the economy.
The most recent EU-GCC ministerial meeting took place in Manama, Bahrain, on 30 June 2013, co-chaired by the EU High Representative-Vice President Ashton and Bahraini Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohamed Al Khalifa.
The EU Delegation in Saudi Arabia is accredited to five GCC countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia). A second EU Delegation opened in Abu Dhabi in the second half of 2013 and covers the United Arab Emirates.
The GCC is the EU’s fifth largest export market (€95 bn of exports in 2013), and the EU is the grouping’s biggest trading partner, withtrade flows totalling €152 billion, or 13% of the GCC’s global trade.
The 1988 Cooperation Agreement contained a commitment from both sides to enter into negotiations on a free trade agreement. Negotiations have started and been suspended several times since 1990. Negotiations resumed in March 2002, but were suspended by the GCC in 2008. Further informal contacts have taken place ever since. The EU remains committed to concluding the agreement.
Industrialised and High-Income Countries Instrument (ICI)
The EU’s ICI fund for cooperation with high-income countries is the framework for financial cooperation between the EU and the Gulf region (and other high-income countries). Amongst other projects, the ICI has financed the EU-GCC Clean Energy Network for cooperation among various players in the EU and GCC on clean energy.